Common Misconceptions About Trade School

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  • Misconceptions about trade school still deter students from entering the skilled trades.
  • Trade school programs teach practical skills that can lead to well-paying careers.
  • Demand for skilled tradespeople is currently high and growing.

During the 2010s, the cost of a college education increased by more than 25%. The rising cost of higher education might be justifiable if college degrees guaranteed graduates good jobs. However, the large number of college-educated job applicants competing for limited openings leaves many degree-holders shut out of gainful employment.

At the same time, the U.S. economy is experiencing a historic shortage of skilled tradespeople. With trade jobs in demand, vocational school is a more practical — and lucrative — option than ever.

Trade schools provide technical and vocational training to students seeking to develop in-demand, marketable skills. Yet, many misconceptions about trade school persist, often deterring students from choosing such career paths. This guide provides a perspective that breaks through the stigma of choosing a trade school over college.

What Do Trade Schools Offer?

Trade schools train students for careers that require advanced or targeted manual or technical skills. Trade schools often offer programs in construction, welding, and plumbing. More specific programs cover subjects such as heavy equipment operation, auto repair, CNC machining, cosmetology, medical technology, and the culinary arts.

Vocational schools also offer technology-oriented programs. Students can learn computer coding and programming. These educational paths can lead to some of the best-paying trade school careers.

Programs vary in length: Some last just a few months, while others take 1-2 years or more to complete. Top trade schools offer comprehensive programs that develop in-demand skills for occupations with high employment rates.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Trade School?

The main misconception is that trade school is for people who lack the grades or intellectual ability to attend a four-year college. However, this overlooks the fact that college is not for everyone. Many people simply have aptitudes and career interests that make vocational schooling a better match than college.

Yet, the stigma of choosing trade school over college persists. The following subsections explain and address common misunderstandings.

Trade Schools Are for Those Unable to Get Into Four-Year College

Choosing to attend trade school does not signal an academic achievement gap. Rather, students sometimes attend trade school because the programs offered better align with their interests.

College programs focus on academic study and can be theory- and research-heavy. For a person seeking to master a technical skill, a university education can be a waste of time and money.

Learning a Trade Is Easy

Trade school challenges learners every bit as much as college. Vocational programs test students' abilities through a combination of traditional classroom learning and hands-on training.

Many of the subjects taught in trade school are difficult to master. This is a key reason why trade school jobs often pay excellent wages.

Trade Schools Do Not Offer Financial Aid

Trade school students without the means to pay for program costs have access to many financial aid options, despite common belief. Learners can also win scholarships and apply for private loans.

Some students at nationally and regionally accredited vocational schools even qualify for federal student aid programs. Schools often also offer their own internal financial aid programs, giving students many options.

Trade School Jobs Make a Lower Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time U.S. workers made a median wage of $989 per week in April 2021. Yet, PayScale reports that technical school graduates earn average base salaries of $70,000 per year, or nearly $1,350 per week. This is 36% more than the national median weekly wage.

The stigma that skilled trade jobs do not pay as well as positions that require a college degree is not true. Salaries for skilled trade workers vary based on their industry and location, but many such professionals make above-average wages.

You Are Stuck With One Trade Your Whole Career

Many vocational school programs teach transferable skills with multiple practical applications. Trade school programs often take less time and cost less money than college, making it easier to retrain for other jobs. No worker is ever truly "stuck" in a job.

Additionally, workers in the skilled trades can often advance their careers if they pursue extra certifications. Earning an associate degree can often lead to a managerial position.

You Cannot Enroll in a University After Trade School

Four-year universities consider any applicants who meet their basic eligibility standards regardless of their academic backgrounds. Trade school alumni do not face barriers in attaining college degrees.

In fact, the opposite is true. Graduates of certain vocational programs may qualify for advanced standing in certain degree programs. Work experience and vocational training may also count toward college credit.

Employers Won't Hire a Trade-School-Only Graduate

Trade schools usually lead to diplomas, certificates, or technical licenses. These credentials normally satisfy employers' educational requirements for relevant positions. For most skilled trades jobs, employers only require a high school diploma or GED certificate, so additional training from a trade school is supplementary.

Are Trade Schools Worth It?

Trade school careers tend to pay well, and on average, vocational programs cost much less than degree programs at colleges. Pursuing a trade education is often a cost-effective option that leads to an in-demand career.

Of course, you should consider your personal career goals and research trade schools before enrolling to make sure the choice is right for you.

The stigma of choosing a trade school over college is largely unfounded. Technical and vocational training can lead to rewarding, well-paying, and satisfying careers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Trade School Misconceptions

Why are trade schools looked down upon?

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Misconceptions about trade schools lead some people to believe they are less appealing or prestigious than college. Some people think of trade school as a place for those without the grades or ability to succeed in college. The reality is that technical and vocational training programs attract people who enjoy manual, mechanical, and technical challenges. Few colleges offer programs in these areas, even though trade skills are in demand.

Are trade schools cheaper than four-year college?

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With much lower tuition rates, trade school often costs less than college. Trade school programs also usually take less time to complete than four-year degree programs. Because of these factors, trade school students typically graduate with nearly four times less debt than college students.

What are the requirements for trade school?

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Admission standards depend on both the school and the program. Some technical programs require applicants to possess an existing academic background in a related area. However, most only ask applicants to hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. For guidance and assistance in preparing to apply to a vocational program, consult our trade school application guide.

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